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Phil Lynott and his school friend Brian Downey were a couple of young Irish musicians that gained experience and skills joining several local groups in the half of the 60’s (Gary Moore’s Skid Row was one of them), until 1969 when decided to form their own band. Lynott convinced his friend, Belfast guitarist Eric Bell, to come down and play, along with former Them keyboardist Eric Wrixon, who didn’t last much in the group. Decca made them an offer they couldn’t refuse, soon afterwards they moved to the meca of Rock, London. The strict audiences there didn’t pay much attention and ignored them, there were many other popular bigger bands who got all the recognition and success. It was going to get tougher and tougher for the Irish trio to survive, specially with forgettable stuff like this humble debut...
It’s not hard to guess which is the favorite music and influences of these guys, just listening some few minutes of this long-play. Basically, Hendrix, Irish folk and blues, that’s what these tunes are all about. “Diddy Levine”, “Ray-Gun” and “Eire” are the perfect example of Lizzy’s typical early 70’s lame sound; a lot of poetry, bluesy guitar licks and hooks, dramatic depressing voices and slow rhythms is what you will find on those. The result is far from memorable, fresh or amusing, rather dumb and weak. “Look What The Wind Blew In” and “Return Of The Farmer’s Son” are more dynamic and loose, featuring slightly consistent riffs that are well-executed, and short pickin’ parts that demonstrate the good skills of Eric Bell. The song-structures are primitive, and the lyrics tedious and repeated excessively, but those cuts are actually the finest moments in the pack. The opening number “The Friendly Ranger At Clontarf Castle” and “Clifton Grange Hotel” are both short preludes that don’t offer anything interesting, with Lynott’s poetry completely comical and silly in each verse, and Eric Bell’s guitars hidden behind the vocals, inconsistent and discreet, just playing the easy chords. Really bluesy tunes; Lynott emulates Hendrix’s voice on those with horrible results, and Bell once again attempts to become the Irish alter ego of Clapton, just a parody but at least they tried. The acoustic “Honesty Is No Excuse” and the lenghty “Remembering (Part 1)” are totally melodramatic and depressing, quite intense with lots of melancholy lines from an inspired Lynott. There’s a lot of folk and blues in those, mellotrons and tortured vocals create a disturbing atmosphere and climax that fits the sadness and drama of the lyrics ideally. This combination of Hendrix with Clapton and Van Morrison’s influences in their music doesn’t work and fails completely. Apart from a couple of enjoyable moments I mentioned before, you can forget about the rest.
The instrumental display is efficient and effective, at times technical and complicated with those magic distinctive skills of 70’s rock, before it became something more simple and commercial. These guys were able to make something big, but they chose the wrong direction and intentions. They didn’t work much on developing an own sound, they were always too busy taking excessive influence from others, so this stuff can’t be fresh or offer anything new from what everybody had already heard by that time. The song-writing is very simple and mediocre, vocals are almost everything, the rest of elements are hanging on them, not on melody or riffs, and guitars are only a humble support that won’t take any attention or interest from the listener. Sad these professional musicians wasted their potential and possibilities with weak ridiculous songs like these. The lyrics are immature and absurd, trying to emulate the 60’s acid rock abstract fantasy sometimes, other times they get too emotional and sentimental, cheesy and mellow. It’s obvious Lynott was far from his future fine unforgettable poetry. Bell is the right guy in the wrong place, wasting his talent in each track, his performance is good but gets stuck in the predictable cliches of the classic rock guitar work of those times, in particular the abuse of wah-wah and many other unnecessary pedal effects that give the songs psychedelic sounds and textures that stoned audiences loved so much. I always admired Downey as one of the most underrated brilliant drummers in the history of rock, as you can check out in this album, his performance is immaculate, executed with completely controlled precision and technique. The production of Scott English brings us the opportunity to appreciate clearly each small detail and note from all instruments, without none of them fading away in the final mix, luckily. He did a great job, but the band didn’t.
Just like anything else this line-up did during those uncertain years, this stuff is mediocre, incompetent and uninspired. An insatisfactory debut of one of the less promising groups of those great times for rock; nobody could predict what would happen later and the glory and power they’d achieve, but that was a far distant dream in 1971. The band would release 2 more awful long-plays, a decent EP and some singles, one of them reached the charts surprisingly, but the general result wasn’t enough brilliant to satisfy Decca or themselves. So only if you like folk, blues and love songs, and your ears ain’t much strict, then you will probably enjoy these vain 10 cuts, I didn’t.
I always thought Thin Lizzy was an odd choice for the Archives. Not that I dislike them or want to argue whether or not they are a metal band, but I always saw them as more of a hard rock band. It seems strange that they should be included and not, say, Uriah Heep. However, Thin Lizzy’s first album, along with most of their early work, is certainly not truly metal. However, it is a fun hard rock/rock album.
The album starts off with The Friendly Ranger at Clontarf Castle, which has an almost psychedelic intro, then going into a more traditional early Thin Lizzy song. The Boys Are Back in Town this is not however. Phil Lynott’s vocals seem to do more driving the song than the instrumentals until the solos and actual instrumental parts. Most of this song, for instance, is made of a fairly simple bass line and a drum beat. There isn’t a lot of guitar until the singing actually ends. Honesty is No Excuse is mostly an acoustic guitar playing a handful of chords, another simple bass line, and the drums again. Although the music never strays far from how it starts, the song is still rather fun and interesting due to Lynott’s lyrics and singing.
For the most part, this is how a lot of the album sounds; acoustic songs, with some electric solos and parts, some good drumming and some decent enough but simple bass. But all the songs are given life by Lynott’s lyrics and vocals. Despite the fact Phil was never considered any kind of amazing stand out vocalist, his voice fits Thin Lizzy’s music great. Other high points of the album for me include Look What the Wind Blew In and the closer Remembering, Pt. 1.
The album is far from perfect though. Ray-Gun starts off with some almost Hendrix-like guitar riff, but aside from the interesting riff, was never a standout track for me. I don’t know why, I like the riff but it just can’t hold my attention well enough. Also, despite the fact I’m often a sucker for slow ballad-like tracks, I tend to just find Eire uninteresting, however it’s only about 2 minutes long, so it’s rather forgivable.
Any other songs not mentioned are generally decent. Not amazing nor are they terrible. All together this is a decent rock debut album. Not as good as their work to come, but if you’re a fan of Lynott’s voice or 70’s rock, it’s worth checking out. However, I can easily see this not being a favorite of people who people who want a more metal-styled Thin Lizzy. Which leaves me with a question on whether I should rate this a metal album, which it’s clearly not, or as a rock album, despite the fact it’s on a metal site. I think even though I enjoy this album as a hard rock album, I’m going to have to lower the score due to the fact that I can see a lot of metalheads not enjoying this particular Thin Lizzy album. I’d normally probably give it a 76-77%, due to it being a decent hard rock debut with a few weak tracks, but lowering it to about a 70% seems fair, all things considered.